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May 3, 2010: An old-school tour

May 3, 2010
Filed under Features

By Jeff Hemmel

Contributing writer

The present economic situation may have some manufacturers laying low when it comes to event marketing, but Sea-Doo has elected to take its show on the road, bringing the Sea-Doo iControl Experience Test Ride Tour to numerous cities in key states from now through June 20.


Scheduled when possible to coincide with existing water-based events, the demo tour — which highlights iControl technologies like Intelligent Brake and Reverse, Intelligent Suspension and Intelligent Throttle Control — is a decidedly old-school, but effective approach to selling product.

All About The Experience

According to WaterTop Unlimited’s Tim McKercher, who is organizing and running the iControl events, the impetus for such a tour is obvious.

“There is no question the best way to get someone excited about a product designed to be ridden is to have them ride it,” McKercher said. “For watercraft a test ride is a luxury most don’t have before buying. Being able to put a person on a watercraft and let them experience all the reasons they think they want one is the strongest selling tool.”

BRP has produced marketing materials to educate consumers about the newest iControl technologies, but, as McKercher candidly admits, even the best can’t compare to actually feeling the brand’s suspension underneath you, the G-forces produced when a rider punches the throttle of a 260hp engine, or the braking ability iBR provides.

McKercher said, “It really has to be experienced first-hand to truly appreciate and realize how much more these Sea-Doo models offer compared to what else is available.”

As to what Sea-Doo gets out of the effort, McKercher says the primary objective is to spread the word about one specific component of iControl — Intelligent Brake and Reverse.

“We want people to talk to all of their friends, family, co-workers, mailman, everybody and anybody, and tell them that they rode the first watercraft with braking technology and it was incredible,” he said. “The second objective is to get people excited about watercraft and realize the advanced level of overall control, comfort and fun available on the new breed of personal watercraft from BRP…“…and ultimately buy.”

Sharp Focus

The obvious question from a business standpoint is whether the exposure, and more to the point, the sales, justify the expense of taking an effort like this from city to city. But McKercher notes the cost of producing the iControl Test Ride Tour is not as high as it may appear.

“Compared to the grand scheme of Sea-Doo marketing efforts, the way we are going about producing the iControl Test Ride Tour is relatively inexpensive,” he said. “Our on-site/logistical objective is to give a big-time presence in a professional manner from a compact package. The right types of event signage is key to representing the leadership traits of the brand, and small details that reinforce the message, such as stop signs at various places to reinforce the braking ability. The right staff who are true experts on the iControl technology and PWC industry as a whole make the difference, and obviously a good venue and right on-water experience are key.

“The number of people reached at a Sea-Doo iControl Test Ride event — on paper — is smaller than those who might see a TV spot, but the ratio of sales to exposures with demos is almost always the strongest of any marketing effort. Plus the word-of-mouth from people who actually experienced it is hard to measure, but we know is one of the strongest forms of advertising and we leverage the events through our social media channels.”

An often-overlooked aspect of such a tour is dealers get the opportunity for the entire staff to try the product, something that is not always a given at many dealerships. As McKercher says, that enables them to return to the store as a brand cheerleader. Everyone from sales to parts receptionist to F&I specialist is more confident in talking to customers about Sea-Doo product, and can relate real-life experiences. “The customer is much more open to buying something from a salesperson who is an expert in the product,” said McKercher, “and being on the new Sea-Doo models is key.”

Sea-Doo collects significant feedback from consumers on site. A data-capture system is used to collect consumers’ contact information and allow them to electronically sign liability waivers and go over safety checklists. Following the ride, demo officials invite participants to complete a brief post-ride survey, after which they receive a branded T-shirt.

“The post-ride survey has two main objectives,” said McKercher. “One, to get their feedback on the product themselves for future development and two, to truly qualify those who test ride as hot leads or not.” Consumer data is filtered, and then sent directly to the appropriate member of the dealer network to follow up with those consumers who are interested in purchasing.

The Wow Factor

Industry insiders frequently acknowledge one of the biggest challenges to increasing sales is convincing those who own older craft to upgrade. According to McKercher, these are many of the customers being reached by local tours such as this. In addition, newcomers have the opportunity to experience what’s available in a fun, low-pressure environment.

“The two words I have heard a lot at the first few events have been ‘wow’ and ‘awesome,’ and this comes from existing owners, those who have ridden before but currently do not own, and those who are first-timers,” he said. “I don’t think we have had one person who rode and wasn’t thoroughly impressed with the iControl technologies.

“Many times a person will demo just for the free ride, but be so impressed they take the next step to consideration to purchase and actually buy that day or soon after.”

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